This very pleasing game design marks a substantial improve merit on Level 9's previous two titles. Aged readers will remember the distinct disappointment of seeing Knight Orc, the first game produced using Level 9's updated adventure system. Gnome Ranger, which followed it, was a marginal improvement, but somehow the game still didn't cut the crumpet - though I should hasten speedily to add that it was still a very impressive release by most adventure standards.
If you really want to understand the good points of Ingrid's Back - and it is a good game - you need to know a little about why the previous two games failed and what Level 9 were (and still are) trying to do...
The main feature of their new adventure system is the ability to program characters with whom you can interact. As Pete Austin pointed out to me some years back now (and I've quoted him endlessly), the number of satisfying and original puzzles you can build nowadays around objects is really very small. The trouble is we've been playing object-oriented games since Colossal Adventure. If you think back to any early adventure, I bet you'll find that the most memorable puzzles (if there were any!) were to do with objects and their various uses.
For example, I always remember the rod which you had to wave in Colossal, the rock you had to press in... er... one of those Interceptor adventures, and so on. Of course there were characters in those days, but they were mostly evident in The Hobbit. This game's major contribution to adventuring was the character-based puzzle, one of the first examples of which was Thorin carrying you out of the Goblin's Dungeon. Characters have enormous potential as puzzles, together with the added advantage that they can, if well programmed, greatly enhance atmosphere. Object puzzles, on the other hand, are usually rather static - and most of them have been used already.
Level 9 therefore set out to develop a character-based system that would bring games to life. In Knight Orc, there were dozens of NPCs (non-player characters con-trolled by the computer) - as a result of which confusion reigned and the game suffered. Furthermore, the characters were rather boring. After all, there's more to an interesting character than simply being able to give it commands, as you'll see in Ingrid's Back.
Gnome Ranger went a little further, but the characters, although very colourful in a couple of instances, remained rather unimpressive. In Ingrid's Back, however, the people you meet and spy upon really do add a lot to the game. Characters, it seems, are growing up. Here's what they get up to...
The story concerns Ingrid's return to her home village of Little Moaning, where all the gnomesy-womcsies are going about their business completely unaware that the local squire, Jasper Quickbuck, is planning to have them all evicted. The game falls into three parts, each one a separate module that can be played independently of the others.
In the first part, Ingrid has to collect signatures from her fellow gnomes for a petition against the eviction. This is pretty simple, since you can locate most of them by using the game's high-level 'find' command. The main objective of this first part is to get you used to the system, the commands - which include GO TO and RAMsave - and the characters.
In the second part, the eviction order is in full swing and the baddies are on the march, Ingrid has to defend Gnettlefield Farm against invading trolls and other representatives of the capitalist tendency.
In the third part, Ingrid enlists as a maid in Jasper Quickbuck's mansion in an attempt to dig up some dirt on the old dirtbag and bring him his just desserts.
Throughout the game, the personalities you meet are full of character and, what's more, they carry out many different actions which, when observed, add a great deal to the plot. In fact, in Part III, there's even a character whom you can spy upon through a hole in a wail, watching him go about his (mysterious) business. All this adds enormously to the enjoyment of playing.
In addition, the graphics for the game are a vast improvement on earlier Level 9 efforts. This improvement is, frankly, long overdue. The first Level 9 graphics, back in the days of Emerald Isle and Red Moon, were pretty ghastly and since then the company never seem to have got to grips with matters visual. All that's changed now, and the pictures are fabulous. They're not as technically well drawn as the Magnetic Scrolls pictures but I'd venture to say that they have more warmth and character.
Playing the game is a pleasure, with each module having a different feel to it. There's novelty in the first, challenge in the second and detective work in the third. What more could you want?